Jesus tells His apostles and the listening Pharisees, “Right now, the people who know nothing of the things of God are more clever in business than Godly people. I have told you before, you will need to be as crafty as snakes in the way that you deal with the world, but with Godly motives. So I tell you, use wealth, even wealth that might have come from questionable sources, to make friends for yourselves. Take what is of this world and use it for the Kingdom of Heaven. Gain for yourselves a permanent home in Heaven instead of a temporary shelter here. Use the wealth that comes your way to help people – to heal the sick, feed the poor, care for the widow and orphan, defend the unjustly imprisoned. Use it to show God’s love to those who need it most. In so doing you will be found faithful in stewarding the gifts that God gives you, and you will be given more. But if you cannot be trustworthy in the little things like worldly wealth, you will never be trusted with greater responsibility and will miss the opportunity to gain Heavenly riches. If you can’t be trusted to take care of your employer’s money, you will never be given any of your own to manage. Always remember, your motives must be pure in whatever you do, because you cannot serve both the false god of riches and the true and living God. You will end up hating one and loving the other. You must choose who you will serve.
Jesus continues, “The steward resolves to visit all those who still owe money to his employer and make deals with them so that they will take pity on him and help him while he is unemployed. He puts his plan into action immediately, starting with the first client on his list. The steward looks at his account. ‘You owe my employer $5,000. I will make it $2,500 if you will agree to pay me now.’ The client looks surprised, but readily agrees. The steward moves on to the next client. ‘You owe my employer $3,500. I will take $1000 off if you will agree to pay me now.’ Again, the surprised client agrees. And on he goes, visiting each one until every client has paid his debt, albeit at a reduced rate. When he is finished, he returns to his employer with the books and all the money. And after the rich man has examined all of the accounts, the steward finds that his actions have produced a greater reward than he intended. The rich man looks at the steward a bit oddly, and says, ‘I am impressed by your actions here. Though I’m sure your aim was to make friends for yourself so you would still live comfortably after your dismissal, I have to say I am inclined to keep you in my service now.’ Now it is the steward’s turn to look surprised, but happy. ‘Thank you, sir! I assure you, I will not let you down.’ ‘See that you don’t, for you will not get another chance,’ the rich man replies.”
At the close of this parable, the Pharisees have a rather smug look on their faces, as if to say, “We are not like that younger brother, we don’t waste the good things we are given on wine and prostitutes. What has that parable to do with us?” Jesus immediately launches into the next parable, knowing that He might at any time lose His audience. But this time, He speaks more to His disciples than to the Pharisees. “There was a man who was very rich. He had many diverse clients and each one had an account with him. And so he employed a steward to manage all of these accounts for him. The steward was entrusted with all of the rich man’s assets. He had a very high calling and had to be above reproach in everything he did, so that the rich man and his money, and all of his clients would be protected. And so it was with horror that the rich man received a malicious rumor about his steward. He called the man to him and asked, ‘What is this I hear about you wasting my money and being sloppy in your work? Bring me the accounts and go over each one with me, and then you are fired.’ The steward hung his head sadly and went to bring the books. Inside he was panicking – what was he going to do now? He had no other skills with which to gain employment, and after being fired by his employer nobody else would hire him to be a steward. He thought hard about this all the way home, and finally figured out a plan.
“His father comes to meet him and asks, ‘Why will you not join us in celebrating your brother’s safe return?’ The son glares at his father and says, ‘I have been faithful to you all my life. I’ve never disobeyed you, I’ve done everything you have told me to do, and I have worked hard with you in the family business. And you have never had a celebration for me – you’ve never even given me any food to use to have a party with my friends. But your other son breaks your heart, humiliates you, and wastes all your money on wine and prostitutes, and as soon as he returns you throw a party to welcome him back? I don’t understand how you could do this.’ The father looks at his son sadly and replies, ‘My son, I love you. You are with me all the time. You are a great help and comfort to me. Anything I have is yours, whenever you want it. If you want to have a party with your friends, you are welcome to do so at any time. But your brother was lost and now he’s found, he was dead and now he’s alive again. And because of this, we rightly rejoice.’ The older brother, chagrined, nods his understanding and hugs his father. Together, they walk back to the party.”
“The boy’s older brother is still working in the fields as all of this is taking place. When evening comes, he starts for home. When he draws near, he notices some strange sights and sounds and smells. What is going on? It sounds like a party. But that’s not possible. He sees a servant hurrying by and stops him. ‘What is happening here?’ he asks. ‘Your brother has come home! Your father told us to put together a banquet to celebrate,’ the servant replies. The older brother is furious! A party for that good-for-nothing brother of his? All he ever did was cause trouble and hurt people, especially their father, and now he gets a party? ‘Are you coming, sir?’ the servant asks. ‘No!’ the older brother answers emphatically, ‘I will not celebrate the rebellious fool’s safe return. He does not deserve it; he doesn’t even deserve to be welcomed back at all.’ The servant is a bit taken aback by this response, but nods and hurries off to inform the father.”
“When they arrive back at the house, the father calls all his servants together to give instructions. ‘Prepare a feast! Bring some fresh clothing and shoes for my son, and put a ring on his finger. He was lost but now he’s found, he was dead but now he’s alive again!’ The servants, catching the man’s spirit, rush to follow their orders. Soon, musicians begin to play lively tunes, delicious smells waft up from the kitchen, and guests arrive for a banquet. The change in the atmosphere of the house is amazing – yesterday they were mourning and today rejoicing. The boy is rather shocked at his reception. He never expected his father to be so forgiving, considering how deeply he hurt him. But he concentrates on the joy and forgets the shame, at least for the time being. He revels in the comfort of his father’s love and forgiveness.”
“His father has been watching for him every day since he first set out on this ridiculous journey of his. Now, as he watches, he sees someone coming. He is too far away to see who it may be, but he knows in his heart it is his son. He jumps to his feet and runs down the street to meet the boy. The boy, looking up and seeing his father running toward him also begins to run, tapping into every bit of reserved strength he has left. When they reach each other, the boy looks at his father with deep sorrow in his eyes. He takes a deep breath, ready to beg for forgiveness and offer himself as a slave if necessary. But before he can even open his mouth to begin, his father throws his arms around the boy in a tight embrace. Tears stream down the man’s face as he kisses his son. ‘Father!’ the boy cries out, ‘I have been so stupid. I’m not worthy to be your son anymore. But please, let me work for you as your servant.’ His father laughs through his sobs and says, ‘Oh, my boy, you are home! You came back to me, broken but wiser.’ And they turn to go to the house.”
“The boy struggles to process his situation. Lack of food coupled with panic makes it hard to think. But he needs to think. What are his options? There is nothing for him here, nothing to eat or drink and no chance of any sustenance coming his way before the week is over. Suddenly he realizes what he has to do. ‘My father has plenty of food. I will go back to him and…’ What will he say to his father? Will his father even want to look at him? He now understands what he did to his father. ‘I have been such a fool! I broke my father’s heart and wasted all his hard work. But I have no other choice. I have to try. I’ll just fall at his feet and tell him how foolish I have been and beg for him to let me work for him as a servant. It’s better than starving to death with these pigs.’ Feeling slightly better now that he has a goal to work towards, he sets out. He has nothing to bring with him, but at least nothing is weighing him down now. Along the way he stops to rest and happens to find some fruit on the side of the road. Examining it, he finds that it is edible and he devours it. The fruit gives him the energy to make it the rest of the way, and when he comes around a bend in the road and sees his father’s land in the distance he feels as though he has never been so happy to see anything in his whole life.”
“The boy looks for a job all over that whole area, but there is nothing. There has been no rain this season and very few crops have survived to harvest. Now there is a famine and many people are searching for work because of it. Finally, the boy finds a man who offers him a job caring for his pigs. By this time, he is so thankful to find any job that he takes it immediately, even though it goes against everything he has been taught since he was a small boy. For Jews, any association with pigs is against the law of God and if anyone finds out what he is doing he will not be allowed into the synagogue until he has been purified according to the law of Moses. The boy works hard, feeding and caring for the pigs. But he will not get paid until the end of the week and he has nothing to live on. He is so hungry he is even considering eating some of the pods he is feeding to the pigs, though they don’t look edible for humans. He lets out a strangled cry of desperation. What is he going to do? He can’t wait a week to eat, he’ll starve by that time. And his new employer does not seem like the kind of person who will let him come and eat with his family.”
“About a week later, the boy’s father has all the information he needs in order to divide his assets fairly. He sells a few things and gives his younger son the portion of his wealth that would be allotted to him as an inheritance. He and his wife embrace their son, tears in the mother’s eyes, and bid him farewell. The son sets out excitedly, with a gleam in his eye and a spring in his step. He walks until he comes to a place that he feels is far enough away from home so that nobody will recognize him or his father’s name, and begins to explore. He goes to parties, buys expensive and exotic luxuries for himself, and treats himself and all his new ‘friends’ to lavish dinners. All too soon, his money is gone. He has been drunk on wine and high living all this time, but now he is suddenly sober. What is he going to do? He can’t go back to his father and ask for more money. That would be too humiliating, and besides he broke his father’s heart asking for the inheritance money in the first place. Going back for more would be too much. After all, he still loves his father, even though he doesn’t want to live with him anymore. No, he’d better find himself a job.”